“I Am Nobody; Who Are You?”

My friend Elisabeth from Missouri once sent me this story. She just prefaced it with the statement that “This is my story”. “Once upon a time there was a school teacher. She had a class of little children who were all learning to read and write and get along with others. She broke up fights and she hugged ones crying for home. She helped them open their lunches and put their coats on when it was time to go home.

In this class there was one different little girl. She wasn’t really pretty, just plain. And she wasn’t the smartest and sometimes did stupid things and would cry or get mad. She was messy with lunch and her art work. But whatever the teacher asked the class to do, she tried with all her heart to do the very best she could. And so, even though there were children in this class who were smarter, and calmer, and prettier, and didn’t make nearly so much mess, the teacher loved this little girl with all her heart.” Elisabeth concluded, “Today, this is why Jesus said He loves me.”

Another dear friend, this time from Saipan handed me this short poem of Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest American poems. “Just read it”, she told me smiling wittily.

“I’m nobody, who are you?
Are you nobody too?
There’s a pair of us, don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog,
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

This poem, stunning in its deceptive simplicity, is Emily’s most playful defense of the kind of spiritual privacy she favored, implying that to be a Nobody is a gift incomprehensible to the boring Somebodies-for they are too busy keeping their names in circulation, croaking like frogs in a swamp in the summertime.

Nobodies are perhaps the most beautiful people on earth. Working in a factory, one meets all kinds of people. For years there was this rather odd short man, always a little dirty, always the same old red ball cap. And always a garbage bag in one hand. He used to walk around the big old factory on his breaks and his lunch time collecting aluminum cans. Day after day, month after month for years. Hot days, cold days.

Everyone assumed that he just cashed these cans at the recycle center. However one day the secret was out. The manager asked the can man what he did with all those cans. “I give them to my neighbor, he’s epileptic and can’t hold a job”. A fellow worker blurted out, “You mean you’ve been collecting all those cans for all these years to give to your neighbor?” “It isn’t much” he answered simply “but I give them to him. He can’t hold a job, he has too many seizures”. Alessandro Manzoni concludes his poetic evocation of one of the most celebrated figures in history Napoleon’s ventures with the question: “Was it true glory? In posterity, the arduous sentence.” This doubt, about whether or not it was truly glory, is not posed for all those self effacing, unpretentious people who are daily and humbly serving others. May be one of them!


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.